Merry Christmas. There. I’ve Said It.

We come into Christmas now, not the Christmas season—that vague and fuzzy time that begins before the Thanksgiving turkey is purchased, sometime mid-November—but finally, truly Christmas.  It rides in on a dark horse, shepherded by the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice.

The solstice is an eve of an eve of an eve, of sorts, as it points us toward the holiday.  The winter solstice occurs on the day that contains the exact instant the North Pole is furthest away from the sun, a tilt of the earth’s axis of 23.5 degrees. This is dictated by the tropical year and not a calendar one so the date moves around.

Even so, the winter solstice always arrives in late December, and occurs at the exact moment of time for everyone on the planet.  On December 21, then, at 4:23 p.m., CST, the earth’s tilt will be at its extreme, and in the next moment, the world begins to right itself. 

Would that everything could be so certain. Holding on would be a little easier.

We don’t know it or pay attention to it, always, but much of our Christmas tradition—the trinkets and trappings of the Yuletide—even the word Yule, by the way—came down to us from ancient celebrations of the solstice.  Candles, fires, greenery, revelry, gathering of friends and family, all have at the heart of it, a vigilant waiting for the return of the light. And then, a few days later, a child, a star, gold and precious resins to celebrate a new and promised light.

We take all this and bind it together and find in it meaning, mysterious and deeply personal.

For the past few years I have begun my holiday season by attending the Lessons and Carols performed by the Wesleyan Chamber Choir. Held at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, it is a worshipful and lovely prelude to Christmas, moving and wonderfully done.  “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” one of my favorites, was part of the program this year, as it often is.

I  don’t know the inspiration for this particular  arrangement, but it bore almost no resemblance to the carol I have known.  A slow carol, it was slowed even more, discordant at times, and the music washed over and around us, wrapping us in something atmospheric and ancient.  It was as if, straining, we might pick out fragments of familiar verses, but really, we were listening to the Northern Lights.

Haunting.  Moving.  Mysterious.

And here we are, a few days away from Christmas, and writing this I am not sure how to proceed. These days we are so easily offended, or told we should be, if only we were more enlightened, more woke. I  want to send you Christmas greetings. It feels as natural as offering a hello or good-bye. It is my tradition. But is it possible to proceed without creating some offense to someone, somewhere?

I doubt it.

No, let’s be more exact.

Is it possible to proceed without creating some offense to someone, somewhere?

Of course not.

Then, let me offer this.

I wish for you the warmest of regards, and hope for you good cheer and blessings—whatever you need right now, and by whatever word you call it—and I wish for you mystery and gratitude and to be surrounded by those people and things you love.  Especially now, in this deep December.

I hope there are cookies.

I would wish you Merry Christmas, which means for me snow globe villages and jingly songs on the radio and Santa Claus and excitement, anticipation and ribbon, and the second chapter of Luke. 

Your Christmas may be secular or religious and or it may not be at all.  Some of us love and embrace it.  Some of us endure it.  Some of us hide until it is over.  However you spend it, I wish for you the assurance, that always at the edge of the darkness, a faithful return of the light.

Comforters, Comfort and Hungarian Geese

I have a pal who cannot sleep, wasn’t a good sleeper even when she was a child.  She is ancient now and it has only gotten worse, so she decided to try one of those weighted blankets. 

You know the ones, kind of like a thunder shirt for dogs, but a blanket, which is heavy and is supposed to provide a nice hefty sense of safety to calm you and send you off to dreamland.

She says it works, sort of, but that some nights it is like sleeping in chain mail, and once she gets settled she can’t extricate herself from the bed until morning.  I am not sure what happens in the morning that makes it easier, but this is what she says. 

And I know it is the truth, because she sends us Snapchats in the middle of the night, all in the pitch black,  just her groggy voice reporting she isn’t asleep, she can’t move, she might die in the night and she wishes us a fond farewell.

An hour later she sends another Snapchat, still nothing to see but a pitch-black screen, and her voice, sleepier now, letting us know she is has been napping and she thinks she likes her blanket after all, and she will talk to us in the morning.

I read them in a dutiful manner, usually around 4:00 a.m., when I awake against my will, no spring chicken myself. Her Snapchats tickle me but I think she is excessive.

Excessive, obsessive, even about that weighted blanket, that is until I bought a really nice set of sheets back in the summer, and then I knew what true obsession was. 

I researched them, compared thread count and finish, made note of provenance and then sussed out if they were both organic and Oeko-Tex certified which means the linens are processed without the use of any toxic chemicals, right down to the threads and buttons, and even the testing process for those  chemicals is environmentally responsible.  The EU is all about  the Oeko-Tex certification, and we know what they are like.

If these sheets were chickens they would be free range.

I didn’t even know I cared about Oeko-Tex certification,  but once I read about it, well, I just had to have it. I settled on a set, which I like very much, and now I, too, am all about my bed and my sleep hygiene. 

Which is a thing.

As winter approaches, I want a down comforter.  I have a lightweight fiberfill comforter I like, but it doesn’t give me that “roasting on an open fire” feeling I find myself craving, so the hunt is on.

The first one arrived in a box so light I thought someone had sent me fresh air, but no, there was a comforter in there, and I gave it some time alone to collect itself and fluff up to a respectable degree, but I must tell you, it was a miserable disappointment.  

It was warm enough, but then, the one I have is warm enough. This one was just too feathery light, something  that most of the reviews raved about.  I thought I wanted something light, too, until I tried it and found I didn’t.

It seems my friend, the insomniac, and her blanket have a point.  While I want to be able to move my limbs once in bed, I think I underestimated how I associate warmth with heft, and had forgotten the importance of the weight of things. Somewhere in my quest for winter bedding, I remembered my grandmother’s quilts, and then blankets thrown over us, one at a time, as the mercury slid south.

The root word of comforter is both a noun and a verb, and that is exactly what I want for my winter bed—something warm to give comfort and to be a comfort, too. It’s harder to find than you think.

I have choices, but shew, it isn’t easy.  There is fill power to consider, and levels of warmth, Hungarian white goose down vs. Siberian down vs. Michigan duck. Box construction vs. baffled, Damask, sateen or German batiste, and Oeko-Tex, most certainly, now that I know what it is.

It feels a little like  choosing a career, a car or a mate.  I’ll live with the decision a long time, and I want to get it right.  But winter is coming.  And like choosing a career, a car or a mate, it is best not to leave it too late.